Anil Deshpande: Sourav changed the face of Indian cricket

Former national selector Anil Deshpande spoke at length about the match-fixing scandal, appointing Sourav Ganguly as captain and much more.

Anil Deshpande was in attendance on day one of the Ranji Trophy final between Vidarbha and Delhi.   -  Shayan Acharya

As the Vidarbha cricketers took the field at the Holkar Stadium on Friday, one of its former captains and erstwhile national selector, Anil Deshpande, was present in the stands to cheer for the young guns.

The former cricketer, who flew down from Mumbai to be a part of Vidarbha’s historic moment, knows what it takes to build a team from the scratch. And that’s why Vidarbha’s turnaround in the tournament reminds him of the time when a young Sourav Ganguly was handed Team India's captaincy in the wake of match-fixing scandal.

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That was in 2000-01, and Deshpande was part of the national selection panel that named Ganguly the leader after Mohammad Azharuddin was suspended by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). “It was that transformation, that phase which changed things. Sourav changed the face of Indian cricket. I have not seen Tiger Pataudi play but people would rate him as a very aggressive captain, but Sourav was the one who wanted to win all the time,” Deshpande told Sportstar in a free-wheeling chat.

It has been seventeen years since and Deshpande still remembers that phase when mistrust had engulfed Indian cricket following the fixing menace. “I was there when the match-fixing scandal broke out. I don’t think it was that easy to know whether a match was fixed or not. It is very difficult. We never knew about it. Now when you look back, people say this game was fixed, that game was fixed, but it is very difficult,” Deshpande said.

In the wake of such a scandal, it was important to regroup the side and that’s when Ashok Malhotra—the then national selector from East Zone—proposed Ganguly’s name for captaincy, and it was unanimously agreed upon.

However, Sachin Tendulkar too was offered the role, but he declined the offer. “Sourav had that aggression. Sachin was made the captain but he was not keen to continue. He felt that his batting was getting affected so he moved out, then we felt Sourav is the right guy because he had the hunger,” the yesteryear cricketer said, adding: “Sourav could encourage youngsters, rest is history.”

As he looks back at those troublesome times, Deshpande finds it difficult to believe that a match can be fixed by a few individuals. “I don’t know. It is very difficult to fix a game. One person cannot fix a game. But then, I don’t know. A decision has been made, the players have been banned by the BCCI,” the former national selector from the central zone, said.

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While he credits Ganguly for scripting a turnaround, Deshpande is of the opinion that Indian cricket could come out of the ugly phase because of players like Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid. “Look at the kind of players we had. There can be no doubts about their credibility. Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, Kumble, Srinath, Prasad—all of them were impeccable in their behaviour. You can never doubt their commitments,” Deshpande pointed.

While he is no longer a part of the selection process, Deshpande believes that Virat Kohli has that hunger like Ganguly. And he even ranks the current India captain slightly higher than his predecessors. “Kohli is higher than even Dhoni because he wants to win every time. Maybe, I would rate him a bit higher than Sourav as well, though it’s very difficult to compare,” Deshpande said, quickly adding: “Kohli has the team. One must always remember, a captain is as good as the team. Kohli has the bowlers which others did not have. When Sourav was there, he had good bowlers like Kumble, but in other teams, there were more powerful bowlers. Now, this team has bowlers who can take 20 wickets on foreign soil. Sourav’s team had good bowlers but only in Indian conditions.”

“Today, we have four quickies who can shine in foreign soil. I have not seen Dhoni from close quarters. People say Dhoni is finished, but I can think you can’t think of a team without Dhoni,” the former selector said.

Having seen the transition phase of Indian cricket from close quarters, even Deshpande knows that the 2019 World Cup will change the course of Indian cricket like it did years ago--under the leadership of a certain Sourav Ganguly.